For the Beauty of the Church: Casting a Vision for the Arts

W. David O. Taylor Baker Books, Grand Rapids March 1, 2010
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Taylor formerly served as the arts pastor of Hope Chapel in Austin, Texas. This book had its origin in a conference sponsored by that church, “Transforming Culture: A Vision for the Church and the Arts” in April 2008 (p. 22). Most of the essays were originally delivered in seminars at the conference, which defended “a vision of the church and the arts that is theologically informed, biblically grounded, liturgically sensitive, artistically alive, and missionally shrewd” (p. 23).

According to Taylor, “Protestantism—in my case evangelical Protestantism—handed me neither a big picture (a theology) nor a sense of how art and the church could hold together (a tradition). What I was left with were strategies and programs, and fairly good ones. But they failed to pull me, my artist friends, our congregation, and our brothers and sisters throughout the city and the world into something bigger than ourselves. Many of us, in fact, have felt the lack of a comprehensive, systematic, integrating, and grounding vision” (p. 21). This book is an attempt to provide such a vision. “It aims to inspire the church, in its life and mission, with an expansive vision for the arts. By ‘the arts’ I mean music, dance, drama, poetry and other literary arts, visual arts, film, and architecture. This book seeks to show how the many parts of the landscape of church and art can hold together” (p. 21).

All eight essays in the book contribute essential elements to this vision. There are no weak spots; every essay merits careful attention. But several are particularly helpful, especially because of their practical advice for church leaders. Eugene Peterson, in “The Pastor: How Artists Shape Pastoral Identity,” tells the stories of “three artists who became my allies in developing a distinct, biblically-rooted, and church-oriented pastoral identity” (p. 84). In his inimitable way Peterson weaves these three stories together with the biblical story of Bezalel (Exod. 35). He concludes with this advice to pastors: “Make friends with the artist. Let him rip off the veils of habit that obscure the beauty of Christ in the faces we look at day after day. Let her restore color and texture and smell to the salvation that has become disembodied in a fog of abstraction” (p. 101).

Barbara Nicolosi, in “The Artist: What Exactly Is an Artist, and How Do We Shepherd Them?” defines an artist as one who edifies the masses “by the beauty that they are able to bring forth” (p. 105). Thus one recognizes artists “by the fact that they dwell in the terrain of the beautiful” (p. 114). Since in her experience artistic talent shows up early, she recommends that patronage of the arts should begin with children: “So, if you want to be a patron of the arts, go into the second grade of your local grammar school, find out who produced the coolest reindeer, and then patronize that kid. I’m serious. In twenty years, they’ll be painting murals on the city hall in downtown San Diego. Or maybe making a heartrending movie” (p. 115). In short, churches who desire to take beauty and creativity seriously should be looking for children with artistic talent, training artists to grow to maturity in their art and faith. Nicolosi concludes with an encouragement to pastors to “hang in there with us artists. . . . Many of us love the church, and many of us want to love the church and need to love her. Please be patient. Pray for us. Know that your prayers and pastoring will help us do the work of making beauty manifest. And that, in the form of a Christ-given experience of peace, joy, and destiny, is good for the whole world” (p. 120, italics hers).

In “The Practitioner: Nurturing Artists in the Local Church” Joshua Banner outlines a set of steps to help churches nurture artists. Rather than separating the art and the artist, or the artists from other parishioners, Banner presents a model of discipleship that is particularly oriented to artistic people. He concludes, “As patient, careful stewards, we, as pastors and leaders, can nurture the soil of our culture by the way we love artists intentionally—loving not only their artwork, but who they are as persons in process” (p. 142). Artists are not only people who produce art; they are also people who need to grow to maturity in Christ.

The editor explains that this book is written for pastors, artists, and lay leaders in the church (p. 22). Churches are increasingly discovering the value of artistic expression in ministry and are in need of help in casting a vision for the church and the arts. Christian artists and church leaders will all be aided by careful attention to the essays in this book. Anyone interested in catching, casting, or communicating a vision for the arts in the church is encouraged to read this book. It should be required reading for every Christian leader and artist.

—Glenn R. Kreider

October 1, 2011
 

Biblotheca Sacra

This review appeared in the Oct-Dec 2011 vol. 168 no. 4 issue of Biblotheca Sacra, DTS’s quarterly academic journal.

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